Here's how to discover your best traits and communicate them on a resume, even the most eccentric.
By Lisa Vaas
Andrew Salsman has what he calls “the uncanny — and many say stupid” — ability to name every Academy Award Best Picture winner in less than a minute.
We all have unique abilities. Maybe your best trait is your smooth voice, always soothing on a client call. Or maybe it’s the ability to translate complex technical concepts.
The problem is these traits aren’t necessarily quantifiable, which can make their inclusion on a resume unintuitive. What’s worse, often we’re not even aware that our past employers have cherished these things or that our future managers might.
It’s time to cast the light of day on these hidden treasures. To find out how to mine your gems and how to communicate them on a resume, we turned to the career coaches/resume writers whose work it is to unearth their clients’ true worth and to package those subtle intangibles. We also checked in with people who found their own best skills and successfully wooed employers with them. Here’s what they had to offer.
Ask others what makes you unique
Jill Nussinow, MS, RD — aka “The Veggie Queen” — is a teacher and a food and nutrition strategist. At one point, someone was kind enough to pass along to her an exercise called “Unique Ability,” by Dan Sullivan, the co-founder and president of The Strategic Coach.
The work entails sending a list of questions to about 10 people, asking for honest feedback. Preferably, ask a mix of friends, family and business associates.
- What am I doing when I shine the brightest?
- Where do you see my excellence combined with my passion?
“They might come up with a single unique ability or several; there is no right answer, no right amount,” Nussinow said. “It can be a word or a phrase or a complete paragraph. I suggest if the feedback isn’t given to you in writing, you write it down immediately.”
According to Sullivan’s paradigm, the answers will fall into the following four categories:
- Level 4: What you are incompetent at
- Level 3: What you are competent at
- Level 2: What you are excellent at but your soul doesn’t get fed
- Level 1: What you excel at, combined with your passion, equals your unique abilities
In Nussinow’s case, almost everyone responded, and she found herself with a surprising list of special traits her respondents valued in her.
Here are some of the traits they sent her:
- Good listener, caring, makes you feel comfortable
- Sharp wit, good memory, humor
- Creative spirit, fun
- Fully present
And here’s the summation she distilled from the feedback:
“You inspire excitement about fresh and healthy foods, communicate passionately and expertly about the joys of eating well, connecting your readers and listeners to the land, to the growers, and to the preparers of the foods they eat.”
She wound up using the information to help define and refine her business and the jobs she wanted to pursue.
Follow yourself for a week
For his part, life/career coach Schuyler Manhattan simply observed himself closely for a week before uncovering his knack for eloquently wording his talents and skills. For example, in college, he was working a retail job. Here’s how he described on his resume his decision to use two-way radios to send shoppers between fitting rooms:
"Devising a new system for optimal communication between fitting rooms, resulting in unprecedented efficiency and consumer satisfaction."
To uncover their own treasures, Manhattan advises clients to spend a week compiling a list, given that “the things we do, even outside of work, are things that we're good at,” he said.
For example, one of his clients noted her love of learning and reading. That indicated great research skills, Manhattan said. Another example: Does your child ask you to read to her every night? Do friends call you to calm them down?
Such things reflect a pattern: “You most likely have a soothing voice and the ability to bring calm to hectic situations,” Manhattan noted. “Employers can certainly see the value in this, and all it takes is explicitly citing this talent with a notable achievement or project to add to a great resume.”
Gilding your resume
And lest we forget Andrew Salsman, the man who can recite all Academy Award Best Picture winners in less than a minute: After months of sending his resume out without a single response, he included this unique ability. He was then contacted by three potential employers and hired by WRC-TV, the NBC television affiliate in Washington.
During his interview, the news director told him that the station had received hundreds of resumes. What made his stand out?
In the news director’s words: “It was the Oscar thing."
Lisa Vaas covers resume writing techniques and the technology behind the job search for TheLadders.